ESPN’s Craig Custance took a look at what might be an impossible role to fill today, as he “searched” for the next Mike Modano. (subscription required.) Custance’s take is an interesting one that’s worth reading, but here’s PHT impressions of who might be able to carry the torch for American hockey as the next ambassador for the sport.
Zach Parise – It’s natural to begin with Parise, the New Jersey Devils winger who wears the same number 9 as Modano. Parise shares one of Modano’s greatest traits: blazing speed, while he’s already a well-rounded player (which surely would have made Ken Hitchcock happy). Parise also seems like a polished crowd pleaser, much like Modano. As Custance points out, it can’t hurt that he already has a high-profile Olympic moment; Parise scored the last-minute goal that sent the 2010 gold medal game into overtime.
He might lack that little bit of “oomph” that made Modano special in his prime, though.
Patrick Kane – … which is where Kaner comes in. If you look at “filling Modano’s shoes” in a more abstract way, it’s about selling the game, and one could argue that Kane’s silky style is the most seductive of all American forwards. Kane is simply an electric player in a huge American market and he already has one thing that Modano achieved: a Stanley Cup ring.
On the other hand, there are some significant differences. Kane is undersized (listed at 5-foot-10) while Modano was a prototypical 6-foot-3. Kane also has a wild side that Modano lacked (or perhaps he was just lucky enough to hit his prime in the pre-Deadspin era).
Bobby Ryan – Much like Parise, Ryan also wears number 9. The Anaheim Ducks player sports a power forward style that conflicts with Modano’s finesse game, but the budding star might have the best chance of any active American forward to eclipse Modano’s all-time record for goals (561) among U.S.-born players.
Ryan Kesler – The two-way Canucks forward is another speedy American who showed that he can be an elite scorer last season. Kesler also brings plenty of charisma to the table, which could be a big part of the process. That being said, playing in Vancouver might work against him a bit.
James van Riemsdyk – Like Ryan, JVR’s style contrasts with Modano’s because he’s a power forward. That being said, the American-born winger is like Modano in that his impact just jumps out at you when he’s on top of his game. He also plays in a big hockey market in Philly, so he’ll get a chance to be a prominent U.S. player if he lives up to his recent contract extension.
Honorable mentions: Dustin Brown, Paul Stastny (if you count him), Phil Kessel, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Joe Pavelski.
The cop-out answer is to say that Modano’s “role” will be filled by committee. That list of players brings some great skills to the table, with some of Modano’s strengths as well as strengths of their own.
If I had to pick one, though, I’d go off the board and side with Kane. The Chicago Blackhawks winger is a delight to watch and his dizzying skill should be more obvious to casual fans than most. He also has plenty of personality, which can’t ever hurt. He might want to work on that mouthpiece-chewing habit a bit, though.